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BACK TO THE RICOH
With the strange coincidences that often beset rugby matches, Sarries return to the Ricoh Stadium just 7 days after their triumphant semi-final victory over Munster, this time to face Wasps in the Premiership. I suspect it will be a very different experience for supporters and fans alike. This time Saracens will be in the away changing room, and presumably playing in red. The trains might be running (!) and the attendance will probably be higher (take note EPCR). The Saracens team may also be a bit different although just how different is the big question.
SARRIES WIN A GAME, A SPORT LOSES FRIENDS
Let’s get the second part of the title out of the way. Yesterday a small number of people in a small crowd behaved in ways that reflected ill on themselves, the clubs they support and the game in general. There too many incidents to be swept away: language, undercurrents of racist bigotry, of religious intolerance and of other aspects of tribalism in sport that has bedevilled other sports, and been sneered at by rugby supporters. for years. The day of rugby supporter segregation must have come bit closer after what has been reported in some quarters. Sadly, supporters in groups no longer expect others in their groups to moderate behaviour, as a result the behaviour of the few fulfils the old saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil for good men to do nothing.“ (Apparently Edmund Burke never said that, not wrote it, but President Kennedy said that he did, so that’s the end of that discussion.)
TIME FOR THE MUNSTER MASH
Sunday 26th April 2008. Saracens have reached their first Heineken Cup Semi-Final. Technically they have home advantage in Coventry against the Mighty Munster – but no one is fooled by that, the Red Army travel in their hoards to follow their heroes. I remember meeting little DG at the station that day, she having travelled down from Sheffield, and seeing her, a lone Sarries fan surrounded by a sea of Irish blood, flowing down to the Ricoh. On that day Ireland came to Coventry – they owned the city, the game, the cup while we stared starry eyed at a universe we had yet to join.
THE TEDDY BEARS' PICNIC
For some reason, I was never more convinced than yesterday that I was travelling to an away loss. Passing the Marlborough turn-off on the M4, I realised that I had carelessly worn blue socks, against my usual habit or superstition of never wearing any colour of sock that included any colour associated with the opposition. In addition, I thought that Mark McCall had selected a starting XV that was simply too callow to thrive in a bear-pit where the bears were certain to be utterly committed to fighting for their survival. On top of that, Sarries are now a team that none fears away from Allianz Park.
CAN WE CROSS THE BRISTOL CHANNEL?
Saturday sees Sarries make the trip to Ashton Gate to face Bristol Bears. The kick-off is a latish one – 5.30. Not because of TV on this occasion but because Bristol are celebrating something called “Bristol Combination day”. I gather the Bristol Combination is an organisation for the promotion of junior rugby in the city. The late kick off “will allow adult teams to play their Saturday fixtures and then travel to the game against the reigning champions,” and according to The Bears’ website “The game will be a celebration of local rugby, so we encourage you to bring your friends and family, enjoy the fan village and wear your combination colours with pride.”
SARRIES, IN CHARGE FOR 2 MINS, DO JUST ENOUGH
After this game, I was once again reminded of the infamous Quins game on Boxing Day at Vicarage Road, when not one person, player, official or supporter, wanted to be there. This game was less poor quality, and as some have suggested, this was not even the worst performance from Sarries this season. Nonetheless, the TV producers will be glad that they turned their attention elsewhere, and we should be glad that the paying viewer was not asked to waste an afternoon of his life watching this dreary spectacle.
BACK TO THE DAY JOB
This weekend will I suspect have a touch of the “after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-show” about it as we return to the Gallagher Premiership and welcome Newcastle Falcons to Barnet. Many of the squad are enjoying a bit of Alpine Apres-ski at St Anton for a few days but I have no doubt Mark McCall will have his mind fixed firmly on this Saturday. We haven’t yet secured a semi-final spot, let alone a home semi so we can’t afford to take our foot off the accelerator. Although, having said that we have a pretty straightforward run-in.
Altogether now: "All we need is...."
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a fan of this season’s new dirge from my colleagues in the south stand. But given Saturday’s performance I have to admit they’re on to something, and we could do well if Nigel Wray used some of his estate agent fees/hush money to create 23 identical clones of Jamie George. More on that shortly.
RETURN OF THOSE "PESKY SCOTS"
So this is it – the first crunch point of the season! The first game we can’t lose. Of course in recent seasons Saracens have got used to fighting on 2 fronts – having reached the business end of both domestic and European Cup competitions for the past 4 or 5 seasons. Player management is a skill that Mark McCall and his team have generally learned to do superbly well. Knowing when to play someone and when to give him the week off, when forces can be conserved and when they need to be pushed, can be a very fine line – in fact at half time on Saturday I feared that line had been crossed – but fortunately Sarries turned the game round in the second half and now look to be in a good position to take on Glasgow Warriors on Saturday.
IT'S THE JP DOYLE SHOW!
It was a lovely; sun was shining and this time at Stratford we knew where we were going. Train to Hampton Wick to avoid the walkways through the centre. A pleasant salt beef bagel and a couple of pints before crossing the canal twice and walking up to the stadium. I should have entered at one of the short queues and walked round inside, but instead joined the longest slowest queue for entry to the stadium. I missed the first scrum, but was there to see Marler knock on and give away the penalty to clear our lines. Lots of mistakes in the first half, plenty of handling errors from Saracens that made it hard to watch. The set pieces seemed fairly even; marginal advantage to Sarries there.